Last week saw important high-level meetings for Ukraine’s diverse religious leaders in Rome with Pope Francis and in Istanbul with the Ecumenical Patriarch. Bartholomew. They resulted in the reaffirmation of support for the victims of war in Ukraine and condemnation of Russia’s war against their country.

On Jan. 25 Pope Francis received a delegation of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) and thanked its members “for their witness of peace and for their efforts to pave the way to the common good of all people in war-torn Ukraine,” Vatican News reported on that day.

Established in 1996, the UCCRO has representatives of 15 churches and religious organizations and one interchurch organization, including Orthodox, Greek and Roman Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical churches as well as Jewish and Muslim religious unions, and represents more than 90% of all religious organizations in Ukraine, Vatican News explained.

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The delegation included, among others, the heads of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav, who is the current head of the UCCRO, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphanius, as well as the head of other Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious communities.

Photo: Vatican News.

Pope Francis praised the cooperation of the leaders of Ukraine’s different religious communities in jointly supporting “those in need, defending the rights of the faithful of all denominations and advocating for the respect of human rights” as a “concrete testimony of peace in a country suffering from war.”

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The World Russian People’s Council, established under the Russian Orthodox Church, issued a decree describing the war in Ukraine as a “holy war” and outlined ambitions for territorial expansion.

“I am with you,” he continued, “in defending the rights of the faithful of every religious community, especially those who suffer abuse and persecution. I am with you in your efforts to assist prisoners and those detained for political reasons. I encourage your efforts to re-establish respect by all for the principles and norms of international law and fundamental human rights.”

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The ecumenical and patriotic solidarity among Ukraine’s religious leaders were further attested to in another symbolically significant gesture that same day. At the invitation of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav, the UCCRO delegation visited St. Sophia Cathedral in Rome, the memorial museum-premises of Patriarch Josyf Slipyj and the headquarters of the Society of St. Sophia.

Photo: Ukrinform

Two days later, on Jan. 27, Metropolitan Epiphanius, was received by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul. The Patriarch called the war in Ukraine " a devilish war that was spawned by untruth” and condemned Russian aggression, the press service of the Kyiv Metropolitanate of the OCU reported.

“We pray for Ukraine and for your victory. Convey our greetings to the people, to the Orthodox faithful, convey that we admire their courage and pray for them," Patriarch Bartholomew said.

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